WILMINGTON — Looking down the Bruins development camp roster, something becomes clear in that this is not exactly the typical group. Of the 23 participants, just four are from Canada. The rest?
As Providence coach Bruce Cassidy joked on Thursday, “I think half the guys here are from Massachusetts or Sweden. It’s one or the other.”
That’s not entirely accurate, but almost. There are five from Massachusetts (Ryan Donato, Ryan Fitzgerald, Matt Grzelcyk, Michael Doherty, Billy Sweezey) and four from Sweden (Linus Arnesson, Anton Blidh, Emil Johansson, Simon Norberg).
The Bruins have selected three Swedes in the last two drafts, taking Johansson in the seventh round this year, to go with a couple of current NHL forwards in Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg.
“It’s an exciting part to see these kids come in with the skill sets they have,” said assistant general manager Don Sweeney. “You’re seeing a trend in the league itself away from maybe the fighting aspect as such in the National Hockey League — it’s always going to be part of it and I believe it should be — but there’s a skill component that I just don’t think you can ignore. But the bottom line is we just want the best players. We want the best players that want to play for us.”
And for the Bruins, it’s important to see those players in person, to give them feedback, things that the local players get far more of, just based on geography.
“They’re in a different environment and our guys on the ground over there are in contact with them all the time, but there’s always that sense that there’s a closeness and there’s a connection piece that has to be fostered and continued as part of the development process,” Sweeney said.
“Sometimes guys that are farther away might feel more alienated than others, so I do believe that them coming in, seeing, talking about the progression and talking with [strength and conditioning coach John] Whitesides, seeing where they were a year ago and seeing where they are now and where they need to head to, talking a little bit about their plans, their teams and how their year went, but also what’s going to happen in their upcoming season, where they think their own trajectory is.
“Maybe a homegrown kid you have a little bit of a feel for that as opposed to a player over there. But we hope we’re treating them equally as important.”
Perhaps the most interesting player in the current crop from Sweden is Arnesson, the team’s second-round pick from 2013, who is best compared with the Blackhawks’ Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The defenseman, who turns 20 in September, is most likely to spend this coming season back in Sweden due to a Swedish League contract that allows him to stay in the United States only if he makes the NHL. He is expected to attend the team’s rookie camp and part of training camp in September.
“We’re all excited about his mobility,” Sweeney said. “Goes back, defends well. They played him in a lot of key situations, especially defensively. Now we’re starting to see a little bit more of his confidence come out with the puck.
“We’ve talked to him a lot about the offensive blue line where you get your shots or use your ability in different ways, get up ice, support the rush and start to think about the game offensively, certainly not stepping outside the structure your coaches are going to demand of you, the roles you’re going to play in, but encourage him to realize there’s a lot offensively that he’s sort of hasn’t tapped into yet.”
Grzelcyk back in fold
Grzelcyk was back at camp on Friday, after missing Thursday due to class at Boston University, and he was back in the non-contact jersey that he’s been wearing. Grzelcyk had surgery on his left shoulder, missing significant time last season, after what the defenseman called a “freak accident” in practice.
Said Sweeney, “He got a tremendous report from our doctors at the five-month period post-surgery. You can see why we’ve put him in a red jersey, not to jeopardize his upcoming season. We don’t need to be putting him in battle situations that he has a potential to even risk getting hurt.”
One thing that Grzelcyk hasn’t been able to do is lift weights to the same degree that he would have without the injury, which Sweeney said was “probably even frustrating for him” as he tries to add weight and strength.
“His head for the game is really, really good,” Sweeney said. “The hockey sense piece, for him, his mobility.
“He’s obviously got physical limitations that he’s going to have to learn to understand and play within at the next level against bigger stronger guys.
“But you’re starting to see him understand even more in this environment. He handles it in college because he has that extra second to process things, but he’ll get there. It’s not a sprint for him, just a natural progression for him.”
Ferlin pays a visit
Though he’s not taking part in development camp, winger Brian Ferlin stopped by Ristuccia Arena on Friday, and was scheduled to join the team at Fenway Park on Saturday. Sweeney said the team had determined that it would be more beneficial to Ferlin to work out with his strength and conditioning coach rather than with the team. “He has his eye on the prize in September, to tell you the truth,” said Sweeney. Ferlin could have an outside shot at one of the open bottom-six roles with the club . . . The development camp attendees spent Friday afternoon participating in three different community events around the area.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.